Friday, October 15, 2010


A strand of hair
A flake of skin
A chip of nail
The spark within

Elements of my being
That stand to fade
If I don’t hold on
If I don’t forbade

I kick, I scream
I yell, I dream
I trip, I fall
I bear it all

The skin, the hair
The nail, the bod
Tools of play
In the hand of God

The spark within
Is by all means mine
To nurture and save
From wrath divine

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


It was another Sunday, probably the only day in the week when I know what I'd be doing, with room for very little change; and it almost always begins with going to church with the parents. On some Sundays this ritual is weirdly automated – wake up, wash up, dress up, go to the church, mumble, fumble, sit down, stand up, mumble, fumble and get back home. But on some Sundays all this is infused with a vague sense of religious fervour, probably brought about because I happen to have some important work lined up for the week which only providence can get me through, or the previous night I stumbled across a distant memory of unquestioning, innocuous faith as a child. Today, my mind was pristinely empty and I was all set to play the role of a catholic automaton.

The parents and I hurried into the church lest we be left standing for one whole hour. That will effectively eliminate the sitting-standing routine though, but then we wouldn't have a place to kneel. We managed to get ourselves a vacant pew and sat down smugly, without looking left or right; and from the corner of our eyes, began examining the gathering. It was a motley group - grand old Anglo-Indian ladies smothered in cheap perfume and rhinestone chokers, bawdy teenagers dressed in low-waist jeans, with tussled hair and a 'I don't know what I'm doing here' look on their faces, elegant middle-aged women who were carefully studying the other women around, bored men who kept glancing at their watches every twenty seconds, and of course, weepy, whiny kids who enjoyed hearing their cries echo through the pillared aisles of the church. Except for the children's intermittent screams, the church was eerily quiet – close to five hundred people sitting in ceremonious silence, waiting for that imminent toll of the bell that would signal all of us to rise.

Also, we were waiting for her.

She always came in late, well after everyone has found some corner in the church to sit or stand. She came in late probably because she knew no one would take HER usual place, which was the main aisle seat in the seventh pew from the altar. Moreover, she liked walking in when the entrance hymn began, majestically down the carpeted aisle, in a feeble attempt to mimic the bridal march. As I sat there looking up at the ceiling, the altar bells chimed, sarees and gowns rustled, and we all stood up in unison... The grand piano blared, falsetto voices rang out in shrill perfection and the entrance hymn began... As if on cue, everyone seated on either sides of the main aisle slightly moved their heads to watch her walking in... She was a wee bit late, but she walked in nevertheless...

My mother always insisted that she must be around seventy, but I sternly refused to believe that just because she had lustrous, curly black hair that fell softly around her wrinkled, brown face. No, I also refused to believe that it could be a wig. Today, she had tucked in an assortment of dying garden flowers of various colours in her hair. In her arms she carried a large bouquet of fading pink bougainvillea flowers, palm leaves, spider plant leaves and a few balsam plant stems. She wore a sleeveless pink gown that revealed her shriveled and weak arms. Her dress actually glittered in the morning light that streamed in through the stained glass windows. A red nike cap in place of a tiara completed her bridal attire.

She straggled over to her seat nonchalantly and stood in place just as the last notes of the hymn rang out. The priest then said something, the congregation responded in a monotone and sat down hurriedly. But she knelt, with her arms spread out in front of her, looking towards the heavens. A few dried flowers twirled to the floor from her ancient bouquet as she gently swayed back and forth. As usual, everyone ignored her and went on with the service, singing songs and mouthing responses. But all the while she knelt there, with her eyes closed in a feverish trance as she mumbled some incomprehensible prayer. Then it was time for the sermon, a time when (mostly) the priest admonished the parish for making the sunday mass nothing but a religious obligation, and a time when most of people who were seated settled down for a light snooze and the people who were standing settled into a relaxed pose to daydream. But of course, there were the ones who paid rapt attention and there were the ones who just chose to say their own prayers while the priest carried on with his harangue. What did I do? Well, I do one thing or the other every week. And what did SHE do? She took out a small notebook and a pen from some secret crevasse in her chest and began writing down everything that the priest was saying- an old-school Catholic practice- as she knelt all the while. She would look up now and then to smile at people around her; that's surprising too, for most people in the church preferred to keep Christian goodwill to themselves. The service thus went on with an undercurrent of religious and spiritual disconnect, salvaged by the sincerity and honesty of a few genuine souls... like her...

Finally the mass was over. The choir sang 'Go the mass is ended, children of the Lord'... Most of the congregation must have secretly hummed that song with relief. Everyone filed out of the church in a hurry, shuffling and gently shoving, trying to make a civil but quick exit after hastily crossing themselves and curtsying towards the altar. But she still stood at her place, grabbing hold of any hand she could in the crowd, shaking it and warmly mouthing a 'Thank you, good bye, have a nice Sunday', through a toothless grin. Most of people would get mighty embarrassed by this and try to wriggle out of her feeble grip, while others would indulge her and wish her back. This time, as I shuffled past her she got hold of my hand too, I smiled and caught her eye... Her eyes shone with a frankness and joy that was rare... her hand, as she held mine, was warm and comforting... Suddenly I was angry, hurt and confused... How could she be so happy? What gave her the right to such bliss when everyone around her called her a lunatic, laughed at her and sniggered behind her back? But when she opened her mouth to wish me, I involuntarily smiled and wished her back... I squeezed her hand earnestly and walked away in a hurry...

I stepped out of the church with a strange sense of satisfaction and peace. And realization dawned – for there among a group of pretenders, was one soul that knew what being true to oneself meant... But sadly, she was an outsider... She was Christ's own bride...